11 June 2009

Invisible China

Invisible China: A Journey Through Ethnic Borderlands
This is a new book about minorities in China by Colin Legerton and Jacob Rawson. Legerton and Rawson have lived in China for 5 years and speak Mandarin well, but after learning more about the various minorities in China, they each spent a year studying a minority language (Koren and Uyghur). This book is about their travels all over China to learn more about some of the minorities.

This is an excellent introduction to the minorities of China. The authors point out that even though less than 10 percent of China's population is minority, that's still 120 million people who would create one of the largest countries in the world if they were independent. The historical territory of the minorities also covers about half of China's current territory. This is a major and overlooked group of people.

My interest in China is almost exclusively in the minorities, so a lot of what they write about was familiar to me (I was surprised by some of the things they were surprised by). But if you're not very familiar with the minorities in China, and even if you are, this book is worth reading. The authors, especially as the book goes on, mostly disappear from the book and the opinions of the people they talk to are clear.

I thought the photos they included were a little odd since there were so many that included the authors with a group of people (it was a little like looking through someone else's travel photos and not caring much about them because you don't know the people in the pictures). But that's a very minor complaint. A bigger complaint would be the hand-drawn maps. They were lovely, but not very accurate. The map of the northwest left Tajikistan completely off, which isn't a minor mistake. That same map gave India some pretty liberal borders too.

Recommended.

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